By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — With help from Catholic Charities, 125 Kansas City young adults without high school diplomas may soon be on the path to well-paying careers.
Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph is one of two Kansas City agencies that received $1.19 million in grants from the federal Social Innovation Fund for a unique “earn and learn” program targeted at youth between the ages of 18 and 24.
The grants, covering three years, will fund six-month programs at Catholic Charities and at Kansas City’s Full Employment Council to provide paying job internships, career training and completion of a general equivalency diploma (G.E.D.) for up to 25 youths at a time.
Judy Thompson, Catholic Charities’ associate director, said she expects to get referrals for applicants from the network of social service agencies that Charities has built through its Concepts for Effective Services program. That program helped train agencies to expand their abilities to provide services to the poor, and those agencies are already in contact with the target group for the program funded by the new grant.
“These will be young people who often slip through the cracks,”
Thompson said that by targeting unemployed young adults between 18 and 24, the program can quickly turn lives around under the Catholic principle that every life has immeasurable worth.
“Do we say, “This is what you are now,” or do we say, “This is what you can be”?” Thompson said. “No one is a lost cause, and they certainly aren’t.”
Thompson said that Penn Valley Community College will also provide office space to the program to track the academic progress of each participant as they work toward certification in a wide variety of careers of the participant�s choice.
“This is a very structured program,” she said.
“We will ask each person to sign a letter of commitment,” Thompson said. “If they drop out, they can’t get back in.”
In addition to the educational opportunities at no cost to the participant, the program will also fund part-time job internships for 18 weeks. After the initial six-month session is completed, a case manager will continue to track each participant, as well as offering further opportunities for job and life skill training, as well as assistance in securing a permanent job.
“These are quality of life skills,” Thompson said. “If you learn how to show up on time, be respectful, and control anger, these are skills you’ll carry through the rest of your life.”
The Social Innovation Fund was created through the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009. The Kansas City program will be modeled after a successful program in New York City, and will be funded through a mix of federal and private philanthropic funds, including the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and United Way of Greater Kansas City.
“We are replicating what they are doing in New York, but we hope to be even better than New York,” Thompson said.
Michael Halterman, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, says the program also reflects the local agency’s commitment to the national initiative of Catholic Charities USA to cut poverty in half by 2020.
“Employment is a key component of Catholic Charities’ strategic plan to reduce poverty in this community,” Halterman said.
“To break the generational cycle of poverty, young people must be given the opportunity of training, education and guided job experience,” he said. “This project will allow Catholic Charities to assist the participants in making great strides towards financial stability.”